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‘It’s right here’: Garth Brooks opens with rowdy 2½-hour show

Updated May 19, 2023 - 6:37 pm

Garth Brooks told us early the difference between his previous one-man show in Las Vegas and his new production at Caesars Palace.

“It’s right here,” Brooks said, flexing his right arm and pointing to his biceps.

Brooks returned the heartbeat of his acoustic show with the muscle of his encore days in a powerful, 2½-hour, 33-song performance to kick off “Garth Brooks/Plus One” at the Colosseum.

Brooks’ jammed a lot into his opening day and night in Vegas, announcing Thursday morning his 2024 schedule at the Colosseum and taking on a brimming-with-media news conference in the afternoon. He’ll headline Caesars a total of 45 dates this year and next.

In his premiere, it seemed Brooks could have hung all night (and his is the second show this month to stray past Strip production norms in a Caesars Entertainment venue, as The Chicks surpassed two hours at Bakkt Theater at Planet Hollywood last week).

The vocally terrific Trisha Yearwood was Brooks’ plus-one. As customary, her arrival was unbilled but met with a deafening wall of sound. Wearing a white leather jacket and black-and-white, leopard-patterned pant suit, Yearwood navigated a four-song spree kicking off with “Shallow,” started by Brooks and leading to her unannounced stride to the stage.

Brooks arrived in his classic stage attire, a branded “Vegas” hoodie with his small “g” logo in the middle, work boots, black jeans and a ball cap. So new was that that Brooks’ forehead revealed some dark ink from sweat during the often-rowdy performance.

Acoustic, and more

The 61-year-old superstar said the crowd would hear a lotta country music, and delivered on that promise. Brooks alternated his solo acoustic artistry with the power of his 11-piece backing band before a packed, adoring house.

He performed what he described as his “sound check” to start the night, saying a room that was filled with humans sounds a lot different than an empty theater (artists typically remark about the way a room absorbs sound when the show goes live). Brooks spent more than five minutes “testing” the room, moving across the stage, before re-announcing himself to formally kick off the performance.

An avid admirer of Bob Seger, Brooks bolted from the gate with “Against The Wind,” turning quickly to “Rodeo,” announcing his band as the back curtain dropped to reveal the musicians.

Strait to Vegas

Production value was scant, but effective, the LED screen in the back sufficing as the main stage element. Lighting was kept simple. There was no flaming piano, no lasers, no aerial rig or any fanciful state stunts. Brooks said before the performance he would keep to the basics, and delivered.

Brooks summoned some favorite stories, or greatest hits from his rise to superstardom. He exuberantly retold the story of James Taylor, George Strait and Seger honoring him at the 2012 Country Music Hall of Fame. The legendary event was a triple surprise for Brooks, who rejoiced as he covered Taylor covering himself on “The River.”

“I love this man,” Brooks said of Taylor. He again teased about Strait not having to move a muscle to hold a crowd while he played “Much Too Young (To Feel This Old),” and then belted out “That Summer” with Seger-like force.

Sing? Sure

Brooks joked that he hated sing-alongs, rolling his eyes and drawing a laugh. “Callin’ Baton Rouge” was brought the crowd to its feet, just before Yearwood’s arrival for “Shallow,” “Golden Ring,” “Whiskey to Wine” and “She’s In Love With the Boy.”

Brooks had described calling his musicians into the fray throughout the show. This is where is Colosseum show is a gear higher than his Encore performances from 2009-14.

The players, most of whom dated to the 1990s and even earlier, were seated at a half-dozen cocktail tables when not performing (the way to gain super-VIP seating at Brooks’ show is to actually be in the band). Brooks would nod to one side, or simply announce such a tune as “Fishin’ In The Dark,” by the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, as the band quickly reformed.

Not phoning it in

Brooks was certainly the focus of attention, but not cellphones, as he required the devices pouched in Yondr cases, the first music residency at the Colosseum to make that directive. His production does offer a “Golden Ticket” QR code if images from the performance, so you can leave with a memory.

And there is something freeing about an artist who can connect past an electronic device to his fans; Bruno Mars also strips the phones at Dolby Live. If there is anything Brooks’ and Mars’ shows have in common, it’s that they take great joy in this intimate, uncluttered relationship with fans.

Brooks shut it down with a medley of sing-alongs, leading with Billy Joel’s “Piano Man,” and saying that he’d always wanted such an anthem of his own. You know, something you would hear during baseball games or called out from random honky-tonks.

Brooks said he didn’t want to sound “egotistical,” but he thinks he has that song.

Then he strummed into “Friends in Low Places,” the crowd roaring and swaying to the uniformly familiar hit from 1990s “No Fences.”

It was a moment where the one-time tavern singer at Willie’s Saloon in Stillwater, Oklahoma, was given a royal response at the Colosseum. He fairly screamed the chorus, and the song’s third verse, added to the song a year after its release and not performed at Encore Theater. The crowd loved that, too, knowing all the words.

Brooks’ “Plus One” vision is to bring out any special guests to join his party. It might be his wife, could be a fellow musician. But what we saw Thursday is Brooks’ plus-one is also you, me, all of us, joining his sing-along of a lifetime.

John Katsilometes’ column runs daily in the A section. His “PodKats!” podcast can be found at reviewjournal.com/podcasts. Contact him at jkatsilometes@reviewjournal.com. Follow @johnnykats on Twitter, @JohnnyKats1 on Instagram.

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